Ten things you need to know about gift-giving in China

By Chris Wilkins

Whether you want to give a present to a Chinese customer for the holidays, or just to build a relationship, bear in mind that there are some things to never gift a Chinese.

While gift giving plays a vital role in maintaining a good relationship in Chinese culture, be it for business or personal, there are complex cultural rules that apply.

These include unspoken rules, such as always remembering to offer and/or receive a gift with two hands. Chinese may also refuse a gift the first few times it is offered, to reflect modesty and to not appear greedy.

To help you navigate through the intricate web of the gift-giving culture in China, here are some quick Chinese gift-giving 101 from Juwai for you:

Five Gifts to Never Give to a Chinese Person:

Clock: The words for ‘gifting a clock’ (送钟; sòng zhōng) in Chinese sounds horribly alike to the Chinese funeral ritual of ‘seeing someone off to his end’ (送终; sòng zhōng). In short, giving someone a clock is akin to hastening someone to their death.

Shoes: The word for ‘Shoes’ in Chinese (鞋; xié) sounds like the Chinese word for ‘evil’ or ‘heretical’ (邪; xié) . It also giving them the tools to ‘walk away’ – sending the message that you want to part ways, thus ending your relationship.

White Flowers: White and black are colours commonly used for mourning in China. If you want to delight them with flowers, don’t use white ones – especially Chrysanthemum flowers, which are only used when visiting graves or during funerals.

Pears: While giving fruits is usually a safe option, giving pears is a big no-no. The Chinese word for ‘pear’ (梨; lí) sounds the same as ‘to separate’ or ‘to part from’ (离; lí), so giving pears indicates that you hope the recipient’s family will separate (in death or divorce).

Gifts in Sets of Four: The Chinese word for ‘four’ (四; sì) sounds similar to ‘death’ in Chinese (死; sǐ). Need we say more?

Five Good Gifts to Give to a Chinese Person:

Chocolates: China’s appetite for premium chocolate is growing, in particular quality, imported chocolates, which are seen as a luxury gift. In fact, 32.1% of chocolate consumers in China prefer foreign brands, so this is one gift that can’t go wrong.

Wine: The Chinese have discovered a passion for good wine in recent years, so foreign wine makes an excellent gift. It could also symbolise a toast to their good health, and that’s twice the sincerity.

Apples: A popular tradition in China is to give apples – ‘Ping Guo’ (苹果) – on Christmas Eve. This is because Christmas Eve is called ‘Ping An Ye’ (平安夜), which sounds similar to the word for apple, and literally translates to ‘Peaceful, Silent Night’.

Local Specialties: Add a touch of the local. Gifts from your own country, region or city are always a good idea. For example, if you are from France, a mini Eiffel Tower would be a nice touch.

Gifts in Sets of Six or Eight: The number 6 (六; liù) sounds like the word for ‘flow’ (流; liú), which indicates fluidity and that ‘everything will go smoothly’. The number 8 is considered the most auspicious number for the Chinese, mostly because the word ‘eight’ (八; bā) in Chinese somewhat resembles the Chinese word for ‘prosper’ or ‘wealth’ (发; fā). Both numbers are highly favoured by businessmen, so take note.

There are plenty more do’s and don’ts when it comes to gift-giving in China, but these ten gifting tips should suffice to prevent you from accidentally committing a taboo with your gifts this festive season.

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